Snowed Out (Chapter 5)

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Snowed Out (Chapter 5)

The final exit from hunting camp my first year as camp cook proved to be a bit of an adventure in itself. (November 2, 1982) A snow storm dumped several inches on us during the last hunt of the season. The scheduled 10-day hunt was cut short due to the will of Mother Nature. All three hunters were able to quickly fill their tags, which enabled an all-hands-on-deck effort to get the entire camp packed up and out before more predicted snowfall arrived. Most of the sleeping tents were taken down the day before we left, which made for a crowded last night on the floor of the cook tent. The next morning, it was an early start to get the livestock saddled and packed with supplies and tents from the entire camp, as well as with rifles, duffle, quartered elk and their racks (antlers). I remember it as a very cold morning; one of those in which the snow crunched very loudly underfoot with every step, and each breath exhaled became a cloud of vapor that danced through the air momentarily. The cook tent was dismantled and packed along with the others, which meant there was no longer the option to warm up next to the warmth of the wood-burning stove. The job at hand that morning kept everyone moving and working hard, though, so staying warm ceased to be much of a problem. The temperature had risen some by the time we climbed into our saddles and headed out. The sky was gray, but absent of falling snow. The flat light of the day made it more difficult to keep track of the trail, which was already mostly hidden under the many inches of snow.

The vast expanse of blanketed wilderness was just as beautiful as it was intimidating. We had a long ride ahead of us, and it would not be easy for the livestock. As the trail climbed in elevation, the snow became deeper, and the lead horse had a hard job in breaking trail for those who followed. Word came down through the long line of 25-30 head of horses and mules that we were to take turns being in the lead. (A photo included with this post shows the snow to be chest high on some of the horses. The wrangler had pulled off to the side of the trail to let everyone pass, after his time in the lead.) When it was my turn to be the first in line, I rode with blind trust, allowing my horse to pick the route we took. The trail was totally obscured by the snow, and I had been reassured by my boss that my horse knew the trail and would not go astray. (Since then, I have had to depend on a horse to find a trail and get me home safely more than once, and have gained a healthy respect for the intelligence of the animal.)

By the time we had made our way to the top of the mountain we were traveling over, my feet were numb with cold. A person can get real cold sitting in the saddle for so many hours on a cold, wintery day! As we started the descent down the other side of the mountain, the order was given to dismount and lead the livestock down the trail through the thick forest of trees. This was music to my ears! What better way to warm up and get the blood pumping through my feet again than to hit the trail, literally! The snow was not as deep in the thick cover of trees, so travel on foot was quite doable. It wasn't long before all of me was warm and comfortable again, allowing the full realization of the adventure I was on to fill my thoughts. As I carefully maneuvered my horse and pack string down the snowy trail, I was filled with awe as I took in my surroundings and thought back on the day. The hardest part of the day was behind us, and the end of the trail was near. I would take the many lessons I had learned during my time as camp cook that fall and carry them forward to the future opportunities and adventures that awaited me.

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